Week three of our Halloween horror feature tackles the thin gray line between two genres: horror and comedy. Let’s count down our top 5 best horror comedies.
Let’s bitch it out…
It’s not until I started working on this particular list that I realize how many films could have ended up here. As we discussed last week, there’s a fairly significant cross-over between creature feature films and horror-comedies (so much so that you could easily argue that some films should be swapped between lists). What really defines a horror-comedy is the laugh ratio and the fact that the horror is integrated into the comedy. So the defining characteristic of this list is how many laughs per minute there are and how the laughs (often visualized in gore) counterbalances – or compliments – the horror.
As always, let’s begin with some Honourable Mentions:
- Bride Of Chucky (1998): Some fans of the Child’s Play franchise actively dislike the last few films because they’ve focused much more overtly on the comedy. This addition, which finds the wisecracking killer doll take a wife in the form of Jennifer Tilly, gets the ball rolling, with loads of doll (and sex)-related humour. Bonus points for a casting a young Katherine Heigl as the human protagonist. Negative points for not killing her.
- Deep Rising (1998): Falling somewhere between tragically awful horror film and inept action film, this sparkling gem hails from the land of Anaconda, ie: inept creature feature with unlikable casts murdered one by one. What makes it a cut above is its very tongue in cheek humour, which seems to acknowledge that the film is better as a joke than it is taken at face value.
- Detention (2012): A little known festival favourite, this mash-up mostly features a serial killer stalking kids at high school, but also involves a bear mascot that doubles as a time travel portal. The execution is a bit muddled (the first half is remarkably enjoyable but the narrative jumps the rails in the second half), but if you’re a fan of meta/self-aware horror crossed with high-school-is-hell films, Detention is pretty amusing.
- Gremlins (1984): One of the quintessential horror comedies, I was shocked at how scary/violent this first entry is when I watched it again as an adult. The gremlins would go on to become a farce of themselves in the sequel (which still has loads of appeal by the way), but this initial entry is a perfect blend of comedy and scared shitless horror. Plus: it’s a Christmas horror film (so rare!)
- Shaun Of The Dead (2004): I like, but don’t love this film in the same way that many others do. Some of the humour is spot-on, but as the film continues, it devolves into a less-than-memorable zombie film and the division between love-interest and best friend feels both tired and cliche. Still, for many folks with a low tolerance for gore and scares, this is probably an ideal entry.
- Tremors (1990): I gave serious debate about whether or not to include this on the creature feature list because the graboids are such a fun and original creation. Still, the way that the residents of Perfection, Nevada (including Kevin Bacon and Reba McEntire) deal with the destruction of their town from below is highly entertaining…with just enough tension to keep your feet raised off the floor for the majority of its runtime.
5) Black Sheep (2006): One of two Kiwi entries in the top five, Black Sheep is a quintessential horror comedy based on its premise alone: the sheep of NZ become infected with a disease that turns them in ravenous, bloodthirsty creatures. The sight of hordes of adorably cute sheep stampeding after people, surrounding cars and ripping off limbs is absolutely gruesome and hysterical. The CGI isn’t always great, but that’s OK because the majority of the effects are practical, including the humans who are slowly transformed into mutated sheep as a result of their wounds. Silly, irreverent comedy involving sheep + buckets and buckets of gore and viscera? Black Sheep is the total package.
4) The Cabin In The Woods (2011): This meta-take on the slasher genre by the Buffy team Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, Cabin is clever, funny and scary. Combining all of the tropes of the subgenre into the tale of five characters who stay at the titular cabin for the weekend, there’s much more to the film than meets the eye – as evidenced by the surprise non-genre casting of Bradley Whitford, Richard Jenkins and Amy Acker in the Office Space-like half of the film. What’s the secret of the cabin? Half the fun is finding out. The other half is marveling at how well Whedon and Goddard know the ins and outs of the genre in this instant classic. It’s no surprise that it took the #5 spot on the ‘Best Of’ Bitch Awards back in 2012.
3) Slither (2006): Before Guardians of the Galaxy made director James Gunn famous, he traded in low-brow Troma films. One of his earliest breakthroughs was this film about slugs that spread like a virus through a small town after a meteor crash. Owing a great deal to 1986 cult film Night of the Creeps (another excellent horror-comedy), Slither is hilarious, disgusting and awesome. Featuring great performances by Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks, Gregg Henry and Gunn favourite Michael Rooker, Slither is an underappreciated gem that is also a perfect horror comedy.
2) Feast (2006): Clearly 2006 was a great year for horror and horror comedies in particular. Feast is probably the least well-known of all of the films outside of Black Sheep, though this one may have been overlooked due to its unsavoury association with the final season of the low-rated Project Greenlight TV series. The premise is a combination of Black Sheep and Cabin In The Woods: strange creatures attack a motley crew of drunks and losers hanging out at an isolated dive bar in the desert. The humans – each introduced via smash-cut subtitles detailing their assigned role and expected odds of living – must work together to survive the night. TONS of gore in this one, but one of the most enjoyable aspects of the film are the constant surprises of who lives and who dies. Keep an eye out for Judah Friedlander and the monster baby, both of whom cause no shortage of laughs, mayhem and carnage.
1) Braindead / Dead Alive (1992): The other entry from NZ is an early Peter Jackson, who initially made his name in low-budget schlock horror before gaining prestige with Heavenly Creatures. What’s remarkable about this entry – aside from the period setting, the stop-motion animation and the over-the-top Oedipal narrative – is just how goddamn gory it is. Horror fans celebrate this as one of the bloodiest films ever made, but so much of the splatter is hilariously inappropriate that it rarely elicits anything other than appreciative groans. Check out this gore-free, slapstick scene involving the poor main character Lionel trying to take a zombie baby out on a walk in the park:
My favourite scene (of which there are many) is when the main character takes an electric lawnmower to a room full of zombified party guests, though it’s hard to deny the appeal of a kung-fu priest who “kicks ass for the lord”. Braindead is an A+ gore-tastic effort from one of the most commercial directors long before he gained critical kudos adapting The Lord Of The Rings.
That’s it for another week. Sound off with your picks or comments on our below and check back next Tuesday for the final Halloween Horror Nights entry: Best Unappreciated Horror Films. See you then!